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North Korea snubs the South's calls for dialogue

Moon's conciliatory strategy at odds with Pyongyang's goal to talk only to US

SEOUL -- Despite repeated attempts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to resume a dialogue with North Korea, Pyongyang continues to show little interest in negotiating with anybody but the U.S.

On Monday, the South Korean defense ministry proposed a bilateral military meeting Friday to discuss ending "hostile acts" near their demarcation line. South Korea currently broadcasts information about life in the South from loudspeakers along the border, which the North worries may threaten its regime. But the meeting never happened. The ministry said it will wait for a North Korean response until Thursday, the 64th anniversary of their armistice.

South Korea's Red Cross has also suggested a separate round of talks on Aug. 1, to discuss arranging reunions during the October holiday season for families separated by the Korean War. The reunions are a key priority for South Korea, considering about 3,000 of these aging family members die every year.

On Friday, the South's Ministry of Unification admitted that Pyongyang had not responded to either proposal. But it stressed that there were no deadlines to finding peace on the Korean Peninsula.

These calls for rapprochement are part of Moon's comprehensive plan for relations with the North, which he outlined in a speech in Berlin on July 6. After meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 30, he claimed to have "secured U.S. support" for Seoul to take the lead in a dialogue-based approach on Pyongyang.

But North Korea has so far ignored the South's offers to talk. It slammed Moon as a hypocrite through the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Thursday, claiming that he talks about improving relations while remaining hostile to Pyongyang.

Moon is also pushing North Korea to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, and to approve private-sector groups seeking access to the North. But Pyongyang has snubbed each and every one of his attempts.

Eyes on Washington 

Ultimately, the North really wants to negotiate with the U.S. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seeking a guarantee that his regime will survive, as well as the departure of American forces from the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang is developing nuclear weapons and a long-range missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland to gain a better bargaining position.

Past South Korean leaders have also had to wait for North Korea to agree to talk. The countries' first bilateral summit in 2000 came more than two years into then-President Kim Dae-jung's term. And it took four and a half years for former President Roh Moo-hyun to arrange the second summit in 2007. Pyongyang may be stalling to see how serious Moon really is.

The biggest change since the presidencies of Kim and Roh is that North Korea has ramped up its nuclear and missile development, and now claims to be a nuclear power. Some believe there are greater obstacles now to an inter-Korean dialogue.

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